Northern senators to repay audited expenses

Canadian senators who contested the expense findings of the Auditor General of Canada, now have less than 30 days to pay back the final amounts decided in arbitration.

The review started after Auditor General Michael Ferguson discovered 30 senators claimed nearly one million dollars in expenses.For almost all senators who disputed the expenses, the amount they have to repay is now smaller.

Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson owes $13,762. That is in addition to the $9,223 he repaid after Ferguson's findings.

Patterson paid and was reimbursed for constitutional he sought on property ownership rules, the report says. He hired McMillan LLP at an hourly rate of $950. 

Patterson was satisfied with the arbitration process and intends to pay back the remaining expenses in full, he said. Patterson supported a senate motion to review expenses, in hopes of restoring public faith in the senate, he said.

Northwest Territories senator Nick Sibbeston was initially flagged for $50,000 by the Auditor General.The Supreme Court ruled he would pay nearly $27,000 back.

"I hope Northern people are not too critical of me for what has happened in terms of having had to pay back expense money," Sibbeston said.

"I wanted to tell people that I do my best and I'm very conscious about my expenses," he said.

The senator accepted the decision, but expected Justice Binnie to rule that more expenses were acceptable, he said.The rules on what constitutes, "parliamentary business," were unclear and left it to the judgement of individual senators, Sibbeston said.

Justice Binnie denied a visit to Victoria to see the works of an artist who depicts residential schools. On that ruling, Sibbeston did not agree because he is a vocal advocate about residential schools, he said. 

Justice Binnie also denied an 8-day visit to Yellowknife expensed for $4,824 on the grounds that it was a personal, rather than parliamentary expense. Sibbeston was unable to prove he was on daily parliamentary business, Binnie said. 

Costly flights to Fort Simpson encouraged more frequent stays in Yellowknife, he said. Senators are required to prove that they were on parliamentary business each travel day. Binnie had a "high standard" for ruling whether expenses fell under senate rules, Sibbeston said.

"It was very hard to get the documentation that judge wanted, but I did the best I could," he said. 

Senators have 30 days to repay the expenses, before it is withdrawn from their pay, or through legal avenues.